Cibola Burn

I recently finished the 4th book in The Expanse series, Cibola Burn.

For the first time in the books, humanity has begun exploring the distant solar systems using the alien portal system. And, true to human form, people are going to fight over who gets the spoils… with not much thought as to why all of the planets are uninhabited.

As the character, Bobbie, opines in the very first page of the book, “how quickly humanity could go from ‘what unimaginable intelligence fashioned these soul-wrenching wonders’ to ‘Well, since they’re not here, can I have their stuff?”

One of the charming things with this series is how connected and cohesive the books are. The same jokes, themes and character quirks are carried through the series.

While the previous books have had only a couple of point-of-view characters, Cibola Burn expands the viewpoints. I also like (and have probably mentioned it before) how a minor character in a previous book becomes a major character in another book. That parallel-living adds to the depth and richness of the world. Sure, someone might be tangential to the current story, but they have their own life going on. There’s no such thing as a “bit character” in the real world 🙂

Here are some of my favourite quotes from the book:

  • “Amos will look after you.”
    “Great, Holden said, “I’ll land in the middle of the tensest situation in two solar systems, and instead of the smartest person I know, I’ll bring the guy most likely to get in a bar fight.”
  • [After being told to ‘pack a bag’…] A few minutes later he was on the airlock deck with Amos. The mechanic had laid out two suits of their Martian-made light combat armor, a number of rifles and shotguns, and stacks of ammunition and explosives.
    “What,” Holden said, “I meant, like underwear and toothbrushes.”
    “Captain,” Amos said, almost hiding his impatience. “They’re killing each other down there. Half a dozen RCE security vanished into thin air, and a heavy lift shuttle got blown up.”
    “Yes, and our job is not to escalate that. Put all this sh*t away. Sidearms only. Bring clothes and sundries for us, any spare medical supplies for the colony. But that’s it.”
    “Later,” Amos said, “when you’re wishing we had this stuff, I am going to be merciless in my mockery. And then we’ll die.”
  • “I know who you are,” Amos said. The big man had been so quiet that both Murtry and Holden started with surprise.
    “Who am I?” Murtry asked, playing along.
    “A killer,” Amos said. His face was expressionless, his tone light. “You’ve got a nifty excuse and the shiny badge to make you seem right, but that’s not what this is about. You got off on smoking that guy in front of everyone. You can’t wait to do it again.”
    “Is that right?” Murtry asked.
    “Yeah. So, one killer to another, you don’t want to try that sh*t with us.”
    “Amos, easy.” Holden warned but the other two men ignored him.
    “That sounded like a threat,” Murtry said.
    “Oh, it really was,” Amos replied with a grin. Holden realized both men had their hands below the table.
    “Hey, now.”
    “I think maybe one of us is going to end bloody,” Murtry said.
    “How about now?” Amos replied with a shrug. “I’m free now. We can just skip all the middle part.”
  • Amos stepped in front of Basia and punched the RCE man in the face. It sounded like a hammer hitting a side of beef. The security man fell to the ground, a puppet whose strings had been cut.
  • “Choosing to stand by while people kill each other is also an action,” she said. “We don’t do that here.”
  • “Then tomorrow I’m going to figure out how to get my first officer back from the RCE maniac holding her hostage, so that I can go find the scary alien bullet fragment embedded in the planet. Amos nodded as if that all made sense.
    “Nothing in the afternoon, then.”
  • He tried the idea on like a new outfit. Seeing if he could find a way to make it fit.
  • There were a lot of holes in that logic that he carefully avoided thinking about.
  • “Right,” Holden said. “No coffee. This is a terrible, terrible planet.”
  • “Last man standing,” Amos replied with another grin. “It’s in my job description.
  • “Hey Miller,” Holden said, watching the robot peel up a two-meter section of the tunnel’s metal flooring and rapidly cut it into tiny pieces. “We’re still friends, right?”
    “What? Ah, I see. When I’m a ghost, you yell at me, tell me to get lost, say you’ll find a way to kill me. Now I’m wearing the shell of an invincible wrecking machine you want to be buddies again?”
    “Yeah, pretty much,” Holden replied.

Exotic words that you may want to google to increase your word power: magnetosphere, agraphobia, avuncular, analogs, byplay, proteomes, abode, encysted, carapace, nacreous, chitinous, assays, polymerized, neocortex, axioms, transuranics, dissemble, mitotic, tetrodotoxin, chiral, diurnal, arcology, sepulcher, amorality, patois

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Book Review: Leviathan Wakes by James S. A. Corey

Some time ago, the beautiful Mrs Ezard and I sat down to watch The Expanse on Netflix. Being a bit of a scifi fan, I’m always keen to try something new. I’ve probably mentioned it before, with new shows we have a three-episode rule. That is, a show has three episodes to prove itself to us. In my recollection, The Expanse didn’t get a fair hearing; Mrs Ezard opened the airlock and jettisoned the show part way through the first episode. Which of course doesn’t stop me from watching the show, but it does make it less likely (as I tend to do it when she’s not around).

When season 2 of The Expanse came out, I thought I’d give it another go. A show that makes it over the first season obviously has some chops. (As was my theory at the time, although now I think about it there are plenty of shows which I think are terrible and are multi-seasons. Like Lost… in which a whole host of people find themselves spending hundreds of hours of their life to watch a show which actually has very little in the way of coherent or honest-with-the-audience story).

So anyway, I digress. When season 2 came out I gave it another go, and this time really liked it. Perhaps at the time when we originally watched it we just weren’t in the right frame of mind.
I’ve always had a soft spot for the noir detective type characters. The underdog who ends up saving the day, and is a bit uncouth while doing it. One of my partial drafts sitting in my metaphorical manuscript drawer is a noir detective.

And then one day at work I was on a resupply run (coffee) and saw someone reading a book that mentioned The Expanse. She very helpfully explained that The Expanse was based on a series by James S. A. Corey and that in fact the books were better than the show. (FYI: James S. A. Corey is actually the pen name of Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck). Always on the lookout for a good series to sink my eyes into, I made a note of the name and said I’d come to it after I finished reading The Wheel Of Time series.

Then the time came and I bought the book and started reading it, devouring the book within a few days. Leviathan Wakes (which is obviously book 1 of the series) is an excellent read that I thoroughly enjoyed. I would describe the book as a blend of space-based detective novel with a light-dusting of military scifi.

(Seems to how I’m recommending the book as a good read, I should add there is significant swearing. Fu: 89, Sh: 106 Bi: 13, Ba: 29. Perhaps it speaks to how engaging the book is, I didn’t really notice the swearing much as I was reading it. I’ve already read the second book and will be posting more about the language in that post).

I’m far from an astrophysicist, but the descriptions of gravity, space travel, space battles and the constraints placed on non-Earth colonies seemed good to me. There was enough detail that it sounded authentic, without me needing a science and maths degree to comprehend what they were saying. The conditions that the people lived in actually changed their lives. For example, the locals in ‘the belt’ had developed bodily-movements which replaced facial gestures (because when you’re in a space suit, facial gestures don’t work).

It was a real book-onion skin pages bound in what might have been actual leather. Miller had seen pictures of them before; the idea of that much weight or a single megabyte of data struck him as decadent.

It’s little things like differing behaviours and perspectives, which don’t actually effect the plot-line but do give the story depth.

I’ve previously written that I thought cliffhangers at the end of every chapter were a bad idea. This book has changed my position on that. Every single chapter ended with something that had me checking the time to see if I could squeeze in another chapter. A cliffhanger – or better described – something that makes me want to know what happens next is a good thing. (Also note the chapters are small ~normally a chapter was about 10 minutes reading time).

Speaking of chapters I noticed that the chapter titles follow a pattern e.g. “Chapter 1: Miller” will be from Miller’s point of view. However, even though the chapter title tells us who the Point Of View (POV) is, very often that is still re-iterated within the first sentence or two. Which I think is a good practice.

Interestingly, every chapter perfectly alternates between the two main POVs, the prologue and epilogue having a different POV. The same character never gets two chapters in a row.

Here are a few of my favourite highlights:

Descriptors:

  • Alex and Amos drank like sailors; a finger full in the bottom of the cup, tossed back all at once. Alex had a habit of saying “Hooboy!” after each shot. Amos just used a different profanity each time. He was up to his eleventh shot and so far had not repeated himself.
  • When Alex threw down the throttle and a roomful of elephants swan dived onto his chest.

Dialogue:

He hesitated for one second, then pressed the button to execute. The ship failed to vaporize.
“I guess Fred wants us alive, then” he said. Naomi slumped down with a noisy, extended exhale.
“See, this is why I can’t ever be in command,” she said.
“Don’t like making tough calls with incomplete information?”
”More I’m not suicidally irresponsible,” she replied.

And

“There’s a right thing to do,” Holden said.
“You don’t have a right thing, friend,” Miller said. ”You’ve got a whole plateful of maybe a little less wrong.

“He looks at his soul, sees the stains, and wants to be clean,” he said. “But you? You just shrug.”

And some interesting words:

  • iconography
  • quixotic
  • pogroms
  • microcephalic
  • annealing
  • penumbra
  • flagellum
  • sclera

Highlights from ‘A Memory of Light’

The dog didn’t eat my homework, but the browser and/or WordPress sure chewed and swallowed my post 😦 Thankfully I wasn’t finished but it still set me back a long way.

Earlier this year I began to re-read the Wheel of Time tomes. I’d never read the whole series, so I thought it was time. After reading 14 books and a staggering 4.4 million words the journey has ended. This is my final post where I discuss the last book – and share my favourite highlights from A Memory of Light. You can see all of my other reviews here:

This is spoiler-filled.

Writing the final book in this long series was always going to be a hard task. The reading audience is heavily invested and they expect to be rewarded for lasting through the previous 13 books. All the promises have been made and now all that remains is to fit all of the puzzle pieces together. Oh, and in case that isn’t hard enough the majority of the book is a battle. The Last Battle (i.e. it better be epic) where the forces of Light and Darkness clash for the final time. And the change in author (due to Jordan’s death) was always going to increase scrutiny. Certainly it was never going to be easy to write. Additionally the battle had to be stretched out to the length expected of a Wheel of Time book. No pressure, none at all… Brandon Sanderson deserves credit for taking on such a difficult task and doing it so well.

Making the Pieces Fit. I hadn’t considered it before read it, but it made sense that the Last Battle would have to involve time distortion. Even a fictional battle between the ultimate forces of Good and Evil can’t extend for 350k words; fights are intense and tiring; rarely prolonged. Time dilation allows time to crawl infinitely slowly near where Rand fights the Dark One (and his mini-boss) and it moves in days (or weeks) the further away. This allows the cast of lesser-heroes and villains to get in on the action. It means the battle can be more nuanced that a choreographed fight scene.

Keeping the tension up in such a book would be challenging. Jordan has set the context of the novels and it’s a different tone to George RR Martin. Readers going in can be confident that Rand will win the Last Battle. And further, they can be confident that the cost of that victory isn’t going to be too high. The victory would come (potentially) with some losses but not the obliteration that would be almost expected had Martin written the series.

Plot Twists are a very Delicate Balance. A very delicate balance. A successful plot twist is surprising yet inevitable. The reader has to be surprised by a plot twist, but then with the benefit of hindsight see that there have been hints along the way and this is the logical outcome.

One of these which worked excellently for me, was the genius of Matt and the Horn of Valere. Early on in the series Matt blows the Horn and summons up the ghostly apparitions of heroes to push back the Seanchan army. Everyone knows that in doing so he is linked to the Horn until death. The heroes will only come at his horn blow. He’s also recounted many times that he died or near-died (I think both are used) when he was hung from the tree and saved by Rand. And though he tells us he’s died because he’s alive and well I hadn’t connected the two. And so as the Last Battle rages and the forces of Evil are winning with the Horn on the wrong side of the battlefield I had no idea how Matt was going to get to it. It turns out, he didn’t need to. Genius.

I didn’t see the connection between the events. Undoubtedly others did. To say it another way, the plot twist worked for me. One that didn’t work for me (at all) were the Sharans.

As the Last Battle is progressing the Sharan army appear through a Gateway from a distant land and surprise the forces of Light by joining the Dark side. A vast army with a lot of male and female wielders of the One Power, they are a counter-balance against the White Tower and Seanchan channelers. (The Black Tower is split down the middle).

The Sharans have scattered mentions throughout the books, often by alternate names. And the Forsaken, Demandred, was mentioned to have been notably absent a lot, as in “what’s he doing?”. They were referenced so infrequently that I had assumed they were referenced to expand the world. I thought it was Jordan pointing at shadows to assure the reader the world was deeper and broader than that which the reader had seen. I didn’t think they were important, and honestly, had largely forgotten about them.

In the later book they were given a greater prominence but coming so late in the series the sections felt clunky. I assumed that Jordan was pulling a ‘Tom Bombadil‘: letting his imaginative expression override his this-fits internal editor. I actually found the sections annoying because they were taking me out of the story.

So when the Sharan appear in the Last Battle, it didn’t click for me. I didn’t think it a brilliant plot twist; more of a deus ex machina to help balance the Dark side of the forces. That might be harsh but the plot twist didn’t work for me.

Speaking of deus ex machina: the new form of Travelling using the True Power. I suspect it was added so that the enemy could zip in-and-away constantly.

I did like the fact that the Great Captain’s were all corrupted (or at least taken off the playing field). Though it doesn’t rise to the level of a plot twist, it was a clever plot turn. Here is this resource that we expect the side of the Light to have, and yet in one foul swoop it is taken away.

The ending… it didn’t really leave me feeling satisfied. I think I would have preferred if Rand had died in a final heroic act.

Onto my highlights:

  • The approaching refugees would soon discover that they’d been marching toward danger. It was not surprising. Danger was in all directions. The only way to avoid walking toward it would be to stand still. (Page 70)
  • The bored soldier there had a face like an old shovel—it was half-covered in dirt and would be better off locked in a shed somewhere. (Page 261)
  •  He did not go into the Rahad. The place looked different, now. There were soldiers camped outside it. Generations of successive rulers in Ebou Dar had allowed the Rahad to fester unchecked, but the Seanchan were not so inclined. Mat wished them luck. The Rahad had fought off every invasion so far. Light. Rand should have just hidden there, instead of going up to fight the Last Battle. The Trollocs and Darkfriends would have come for him, and the Rahad would have left them all unconscious in an alley, their pockets turned inside out and their shoes sold for soup money. (Page 262)
  •  “Being in charge isn’t always about telling people what to do. Sometimes, it’s about knowing when to step out of the way of people who know what they’re doing.” (Page 295)
  •  The entire land wilted faster than a boy at Bel Tine with no dancing partners. (Page 336)

 And some more funny one-upmanship between Rand and Matt.

Rand: “What did you do to your eye?”
Matt: “A little accident with a corkscrew and thirteen angry innkeepers. The hand?”
“Lost it capturing one of the Forsaken.”
“Capturing?” Mat said. “You’re growing soft.”
Rand snorted. “Tell me you’ve done better.”
“I killed a gholam,” Mat said.
“I freed Illian from Sammael.”
“I married the Empress of the Seanchan.”
“Mat,” Rand said, “are you really trying to get into a bragging contest with the Dragon Reborn?” He paused for a moment. “Besides, I cleansed saidin. I win.”
“Ah, that’s not really worth much,” Mat said.
“Not worth much? It’s the single most important event to happen since the Breaking.”
“Bah. You and your Asha’man are already crazy,” Mat said, “so what does it matter?” He glanced to the side. “You look nice, by the way. You’ve been taking better care of yourself lately.”

“Sure,” Mat said. “By the way, I saved Moiraine. Chew on that as you try to decide which of the two of us is winning.” Mat followed Tuon, and behind him rose the laughter of the Dragon Reborn. (Page 368)

It seems late to make the decision, but I think I like Matt’s point-of-views best. He has more of a cheeky disposition which is fun to read:

  • Her new clothing looked very nice on her … Min’s was a dark green shiny silk with black embroidery and wide, open sleeves that were at least long enough to stick your head into. They had done up her hair, too, sticking bits of metal into it, silver with inset firedrops. There were hundreds of them. If this whole Doomseer title did not work out for her, perhaps she could find work as a chandelier. (Page 544) 
  • “Please, if I might make a humble suggestion, Highness? You are unprotected; let me at least give you some proper armor.” Mat thought for a moment, then agreed that her suggestion was a prudent one. A person could get hurt out there, what with arrows flying and blades swinging. Tylee called over one of her senior officers who seemed to be about the same size as Mat. She had the man remove his armor, which was extremely colorful, overlapping plates lacquered green, gold and red, outlined with silver. The officer looked bemused when Mat handed him his coat in trade, saying that he expected it to be returned at the end of the day in the same condition. (Page 558)
  • If you do not learn from your losses, you will be ruled by them. (Page 425) 

This below quote is worth a mention. A murderer standing over you is scary. One who is thoughtfully considering an everyday thing about you takes it further.

  • Still, bedding down here was like trying to sleep while a murderer stood beside your bed, holding a knife and contemplating the color of your hair. (Page 629)
  •  “Thank you.” She glanced at the sword.
  • “I’m a Warder now.” He shrugged. “Might as well look like one, eh?” He could cut a Trolloc in half with a gateway at three hundred paces, and summon fire from inside Dragonmount itself, and he still wanted to carry a sword. It was, she decided, a male thing. (Page 697)
  •  Some men would call it brash, foolhardy, suicidal. The world was rarely changed by men who were unwilling to try being at least one of the three. (Page 885)  
  • Below, the battle churned like a meat grinder, ripping men and Trollocs into chunks of dead flesh. (Page 950)

 And just a couple of interesting words:

  • starveling (Page 70)
  • occluded (Page 477)

Thus ended the Wheel of Time. If you’ve read it, I’d be curious to hear how you felt about the ending?

Highlights from ‘Towers of Midnight’

This is my penultimate Wheel of Time series highlights post, where I pull out my favourite lines and reflect on some of the themes or writing style that I observed.

I read through book 13 of the Wheel of Time with a near insatiable hunger. I normally read on my daily commute but also found myself reading in every spare minute I had (including, when I should have been doing other things). I read with great anticipation. It felt as though I had journeyed so long through the series, and the end of the journey was in sight. For twelve long books the story has been reaching slowly toward a climax and now I knew it was just around the corner. The prophecies would be fulfilled, the Last Battle would finally come. With anticipation (and a tinge of sadness) I looked forward to finishing the journey with the myriad of characters who I’ve spent the more than half a year with.

There were two other things I particularly liked about this book (especially now that I consider them in hindsight). I’ll be a little vague so as not to spoil it. The first is the treatment of the character of Noal Charin. This elderly – and yet surprisingly spritely and dangerous – senior citizen first appears in book 7. He pops in and out for a while, until he begins traveling with Matt. Noal is very suspicious and we’re used to seeing assassins and Darkfriends hiding in plain-sight, so it’s no surprise that the reader assumes he’s somehow nefarious. Not until Towers of Midnight do we understand who he really is. He has a secret, only it’s not the one we think it is. At least that’s how I felt.

The second is the fulfilment of the prophecy where Matt would have to trade “half the light of the world” to rescue Moiraine. I always wondered what that meant, and how it would be achieved. Now I know, and it was excellently plotted. And of course, finished off with some trademark-quality Matt irreverence:

Mat stepped back and tipped his hat to the creatures. ‘Looks like the game can be won after all,’ he said. ‘Tell the foxes I’m mighty pleased with this key they gave me. Also, you can all go rot in a flaming pit of fire and ashes, you unwashed lumps on a pig’s backside. Have a grand bloody day.’ (page 897).

Now onto my highlights:

Dull green moss hung from the branches, drooping like shreds of flesh from rotting corpses. (Page 22)

I love some good descriptive phrases; words that really paint a picture that flourishes in the imagination. What’s particularly great about this one is more than just the vivid description: the phrase reinforces the theme and setting. One wouldn’t use a description like this to describe trees at a wedding, but trees in a world that is literally ‘spoiling’ fit it perfectly.

Like an old friend. A dear, beloved old friend that you were going to stab through the eye, open up at the gut and consume by handfuls while drinking his blood. That was the property way to treat friends. (Page 36)

This block starts off one way, making you think about a friend; and then pivots 180 degrees to show that it’s actually the opposite. (It is a terrible block. For context: it’s an evil villain who has been entirely corrupted by darkness. The thought-process also reveals the character’s warped madness. At the time I didn’t really understand this passage. Only now with hindsight – having finished book 14 – do I understand it. I guess it was foreshadowing and my memory may be foggy – perhaps it does play a bigger part in book 14?)

Continuing the theme I’ve mentioned before about a character understanding and relating to what they are familiar with: Faile comes from a culture noted for their cavalry and adeptness with horse bows.

Faile was actually a perfect complement to Perrin. Where he was a blunt and leveled lance at charge, she was a subtle cavalry bow. (Page 123)

And, Androl a master craftsman who worked with leather:

Logain was a hard man, broken around the edges, like an old scabbard that hadn’t been properly lacquered. But that scabbard still held a deadly sword. Logain was honest. A good man, beneath the scuff marks. (Page 746)

Also, taking what is a cliche for us, and bending and twisting until it’s different enough so as not to be boring. ‘A face only a mother would love’ becomes “Berg had a face ugly enough to make his own mother wince.” (Page 149) and the ‘long arm of the law’ becomes

There were many who would think to exploit a lone wanderer at night, particularly outside the city walls, where the arm of the law was a little on the flabby side. (Page 377)

Some gender-based humour, where men and women looked askance at one another:

  • She was not there at the wagon, fortunately for Mat. She would complain at him again for not having gotten her a bellfounder. She seemed to think him her own personal messenger boy. An unruly one, who refused to do his job properly. Most women had moments like that. (Page 259)
  • there was nothing a woman liked better than finding men who were relaxing, then giving them orders. (Page 266)
  • Nothing was more dangerous for the sanity of men than a woman with too much time on her hands. (Page 266)

‘Nobody walks a difficult path without stumbling now and again. It didn’t break you when you fell. That’s the important part.’ (Page 208)

Besides, I can only fight in one place at a time. What is coming will be grander than that, grander and more terrible than any one man could hope to hold back. I will organize you, but I must leave you. The war will be yours.’ (Page 554)

This passage explains what we should expect in the final book. Rand will face the Dark One, but the cosmic battle between good and evil will not be the only battle. The forces of darkness are many, and the full cast of characters will be used to hold-back the enemy.

Truth, veiled in fiction:

  • But also because it was for the best. If two bards tried to play different songs at the same time, they both made noise. But if one stepped back to give harmony to the other’s melody, then the beauty could be greater than either made alone. (Page 626)
  • The men who don’t want titles should be the ones who get them, it seems. (Page 681)
  • Small things were important. Seconds were small things, and if you heaped enough of those on top of one another, they became a man’s life. (Page 746)

Some great repartee:

‘I don’t like this,’ Birgitte said.
‘You don’t like anything, lately,’ Elayne said.
‘I swear, you’re becoming more irritable by the day.’‘It’s because you’re becoming more foolhardy by the day.’
‘Oh, come now. This is hardly the most foolhardy thing I’ve done.’
‘Only because you’ve set a very high benchmark for yourself, Elayne.’ (Page 833)

And

Mat just shook his head. ‘Well, we’re out, one way or another. But Thom, next time I want to do the bloody negotiating, sneak up behind and hit me on the head with something large, heavy and blunt. Then take over.’

‘Your request is noted.’ (Page 907)

Just great phrases:

  • Eventually, the wind encountered another continent, this one quiet, like a man holding his breath before the headsman’s axe fell. (Page 46)
  • He was a young man, but the way he stood – relaxed, yet poised, hand on the pommel of his sword – indicated he was a practiced soldier. Too bad he had such a pretty face. A life in the military would probably end up wrecking that. (Page 303)
  • at night, the holes and scars on the White Tower were patched with a bandage of darkness. (Page 361)

Some interesting words that I’d either not heard before, or seldom:

  • whelp – A young offspring of a mammal, such as a dog or wolf. (Page 85)
  • succor – To give assistance to in time of want, difficulty, or distress (Page 95)
  • expurgations – purging, cleansing from anything noxious, offensive, sinful or erroneous (Page 316)
  • fecund – Capable of producing offspring or vegetation (Page 429)
  • bittern – a type of wading bird (Page 721)
  • superlatively – Of the highest order, quality, or degree; surpassing or superior to all others. (Page 784)
  • sonorous – Having or producing a full, deep, or rich sound (Page 895)

Highlights from ‘The Gathering Storm’

When I pushed to complete my scifi/fantasy novel, Vengeance Will Come, it was for professional reasons. I wanted to divert some time from writing into learning c# and polishing up my programming skills. In my next blog post I will reveal some of the early fruits of that work. (Hint: it’s Nerd-Author Fun on steroids).

For this post, I’ll share my highlights from The Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan & Brandon Sanderson, book 12: The Gathering Storm. This book was released after Jordan’s death, and completed by Sanderson (working with Jordan’s notes) to finish the series. It is my opinion that Brandon has done a wonderful job in giving readers the end of the series, admirably trying to imitate the series’ voice. As per usual to keep the size of the post manageable I’ve selected only those quotes I liked the most.

I found it a great surprise that on the very day I published my scifi/fantasy novel: Vengeance Will Come, I later read this passage:

…ignore this insult, Corana. Vengeance will come. Once this war is… (page 257)

What’s the chances of that? 🙂

There is humour which beautifully occurs over multiple pages. Everyone has sat on a chair before and wondered how long it is going to be before they collapse, or if they’ll be able to get out of it. Camping chairs are particularly notorious. It’s something 99% of readers can relate to. First the set up, with a funny description of the chair’s craftsman:

Mat asked, still suspicious as he seated himself on the pillowed bench. He hated the thing; it was completely impossible to sit on it in any way that was comfortable. Pillows didn’t help. Somehow, they made the seat more awkward. Bloody thing must have been designed by insane, cross-eyed Trollocs and built from the bones of the damned. That was the only reasonable explanation. (Page 588)

Notice how the funny description is reinforced by it being “the only reasonable explanation.” The story then continues, and the last paragraph in the scene returns to the humble bench for a final laugh:

Mat tucked the folded paper into his belt, then started to leave. ‘And have somebody burn that bloody bench. I can’t believe we carted the thing this far.’ (Page 597)

In book 12 Egwene really develops as the head of the Aes Sedai, the Amrilyn Seat. We see how her earlier time with Aiel is used to fashion her and help her to overcome Elaida’s punishment as she embraces pain, and is able to laugh through it. Multiple books worth of adventure and experience are beginning to make sense and we see how they fit into the narrative of the character arcs and broader story. The loose threads of the story are being woven together before our eyes.

‘You are a coward and a tyrant. I’d name you Darkfriend as well, but I suspect that the Dark One would perhaps be embarrassed to associate with you.’ (Page 283)

Plus some great descriptors:

  • The monster was a nightmare, given a body and let loose to kill. (Page 21)
  • many of his men were ill trained or too old for fighting. He almost lumped himself in that latter group, as the years were beginning to pile on him like bricks on a pallet (Page 31)
  • Some men were made weak by age, others were made to look tired or slovenly. Bryne had simply become distinguished, like a pillar, crafted by a master stonemason, then left to the elements. Age hadn’t reduced Bryne’s effectiveness or his strength. It had simply given him character, dusting his temples with silver, creasing his firm face with lines of wisdom. (Page 142)
  • He could feel the palace around him shaking from the earth’s own sobs. (Page 816)

For the majority of the last 10 or so books the main protagonist, Rand Al’Thor aka The Dragon Reborn, has been mentally and emotionally hardening himself. He has accepted his own death as inevitable and has transformed from a caring young man into a hardened fatalist. We have seen him push his friends away, use them as tools for his cause and grow impenetrable, the anger raging like a fire inside of him. His mind and heart have become hard, assuming that ultimate strength comes from overcoming emotions.

‘You believe the Last Battle is close, then?’ she asked.
‘Close?’ al’Thor asked. ‘It is as close as an assassin, breathing his foul breath upon your neck as he slides his knife across your skin. It is close like the last chime of midnight, after the other eleven have struck. Close? Yes, it is close. Horribly close.’ (Page 581)

Narratively, we know that he must change. Various side characters have repeatedly described how important it was that he “laugh again”. We knew the darkness inside of him somehow had to break or he wouldn’t be able to stand up for the Light. He, and the world would be lost to the Dark One.

I wasn’t sure how it was going to happen. And then, beautifully-written, it occurs. A masterstroke of plotting. It isn’t a trusted advisor, an old friend or a lover who draw the moment out, but between a father and his son.

Maybe you can’t pick where you are forced to go, but you still have a choice.’
‘But how?’ Tam laid a hand on Rand’s shoulder.
‘The choice isn’t always about what you do, son, but why you do it. When I was a soldier, there were some men who fought simply for the money. There were others who fought for loyalty – loyalty to their comrades, or to the crown, or to whatever. The soldier who dies for money and the soldier who dies for loyalty are both dead, but there’s a difference between them. One death meant something. The other didn’t. (Page 794)

You may not be able to choose the duties you’re given. But you can choose why you fulfil them. (Page 795)

And, importantly it isn’t a conversation which brings about the plot resolution. They have the conversation, then in a fit of rage Rand almost kills his father. He then almost destroys everything… but it is the conversation with the father that changes his mind, that pulls him back from the brink. A mere conversation wouldn’t have been enough; it would have been too quick, unbelievable. But how it happens is fantastic writing.

‘How do you fight someone smarter than yourself?’ Rand whispered. ‘The answer is simple. You make her think that you are sitting down across the table from her, ready to play her game. Then you punch her in the face as hard as you can. (Page 616)

And the word-power words:

  • diaphanous – Of such fine texture as to be transparent or translucent (Page 21)
  • cairn –  A mound of stones erected as a memorial or marker (Page 244)
  • sagacious – Having or showing keen discernment, sound judgment, and farsightedness (Page 708)

Note that there are less of them. It could be I marked less, but I suspect that Sanderson choose to use less than Jordan did. A good decision, I think.

Highlights from ‘Knife of Dreams’

In blogging about my own book, Vengeance Will Come, I got a little behind in sharing my highlights as I read through the Wheel of Time series. Getting back on track here are my thoughts and comments on Book 11, Knife Of Dreams.

One of the things which I have commented on several times – because it is worthy of repetition is how Robert Jordan explores the differences between the genders. It seems that confusion and the up-is-down way that men and women think and act toward one another are endless fodder for jokes and character tension. (And much of it based in some truth).

  • only a fool thought he knew what was in a woman’s head just because she had a smile on her face. (Page 229)
  • Women could compress a great deal into one look. (Page 233)
  • When a woman went silent on you, there usually was trouble in the offing (Page 280)
  • A man wanted to stand well in his wife’s eyes. (Page 438)
  • “We’ll talk about it,” she murmured, the bond filling with stubborn resolve. The most dire words a woman can say short of “I’m going to kill you,” Rand thought. (Page 460)
  • She stood there giving him one of those looks women carried in their belt pouches. (Page 487)
  • …Caraline paused her talk with Min to give him a look that would have had him hunting for the stab wound had he noticed it. (Page 494)
  • “Still, a cold bath helps a man keep his mind off his troubles.”“I thought that was for keeping your mind off women,” Perrin said. He was in no mood for joking, but he could not expect everyone to be as grim as he was. Elyas laughed. “What else causes a man’s troubles?” He disappeared into the water, and Tallanvor replaced him. (Page 617)

There have been a few points throughout the series where Jordan’s writing has elicited an emotional response from me. It’s impressive to consider that even though I know something is pure fiction, it can still register an emotional response of sadness or elation. (In much the same ways as animation can). One such scene is where Nynaeve tricks her husband Lan, by depositing him as far away from his dangerous goal as she could (while still keeping her word), and then Travels (ala teleports) to every village along his route, calling for soldiers to join him.

“My name is Nynaeve ti al’Meara Mandragoran. The message I want sent is this. My husband rides from World’s End toward Tarwin’s Gap, toward Tarmon Gai’don. Will he ride alone?” (Page 472)

The Wheel of Time is undeniably an EPIC fantasy. The world is populated by numerous cultures; each with their own customs, fashion and architecture. Not to mention biases against each-other. Oops, I guess I did mention it.

Commoners in these lands seemed to believe themselves equal to everyone. Selucia gave the same sort of instructions to the lanky young man who took …[her horse]…  The young man stared at Selucia’s chest, until she slapped him. Hard. He only grinned and led the dun away rubbing his cheek. Tuon sighed. That was all very well for Selucia, but for herself, striking a commoner would lower her eyes for months. (Page 609)

For us in the West, a woman slapping a rude man would be (fairly) appropriate. The idea though that it would result in shame for the woman is so contradictory. It adds a flavour to the story; a richness and a difference to the culture. Jordan turns our social norms on their head: women are often more respected than men, blond-hair and Caucasian skin seem to be rare.

Being an epic fantasy, the series is full of prophecy which is used as a foretaste of what is to come, and then as a reward when it is paid off (especially when in a surprising way). However, prophecy isn’t always fulfilled with a trumpet sounding and a big climax – sometimes it occurs out of happenstance:

The ring was a carver’s try-piece, bought only because it stuck on his finger; he would give up those memories of Hawkwing’s face along with every other old memory, if it would get the bloody snakes out of his head; and yet those things had gained him a wife. The Band of the Red Hand would never have existed without those old memories of battles. (Page 809)

It never hurts to throw in a little bit of superstition or a lack of understanding. Characters after all, aren’t all-knowing.

His companion waved a plump, dismissive hand even while staring at the Maidens. “Worms?” he said absently. “Everybody knows silk grows on trees.” Walking deeper into the common room, Rand shook his head as the proprietor advanced to meet him. Worms! The tales people could come up with to try prying coin out of somebody else. (Page 483)

And just some good quotes:

  • flattery oiled the insignificant as well as it did the mighty. (Page 72)
  • yet the biting, sulphurous smell that filled the chill night air seemed an ill omen, and hardened men offered their prayers aloud as fervently as the beardless boys. (Page 98)
  • Birgitte was the first to arrive, the bond filled with weary discontent. “A ride?” she said, and when Elayne explained, she began raising objections. Well, some of it was objections; the rest was just insults. “What hare-brained, crack-pated scheme are you talking about, Birgitte?” (Page 733)

And a great quote to remember when plotting stories:

It was never this way in stories. In stories, everything was always wrapped up neatly by the end. Real life was much . . . messier. (Page 798)

And the list of words which I either didn’t know, or don’t use enough. Whilst I do love good words, and enjoy being educated by what I read, personally – I would hesitate to use so many “big words” in my own writing. Granted, they are few among thousands… still, I would hesitate.

  • hale (Page 9)
  • salubrious (Page 90)
  • tincture (Page 91)
  • zephyr (Page 97)
  • androgynous (Page 142)
  • griddle (Page 217)
  • derrick (Page 220)
  • coppiced (Page 307)
  • desiccated (Page 309)
  • perquisite (Page 400)
  • andirons (Page 414)
  • demure (Page 434)
  • gobbet (Page 449)
  • charnel (Page 450)
  • detritus (Page 567)
  • susurration (Page 581)
  • grouse (Page 590)
  • suet (Page 596)
  • asperity (Page 638)
  • ebullience (Page 729)
  • vituperative (Page 787)
  • visages (Page 791)

Highlights from Crossroads of Twilight

My highlighted sections (and a few associated thoughts) from Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time, book 10 – Crossroads Of Twilight. I have pruned these comments quite hard, taking only a few picked from the bunch.

One important aspect of being a writer in my opinion is the skill of observation. (Which is quite funny, because at times I can be very un-observant). It’s looking at an object or person and noticing details. For example: not just that Sally was angry, but how that affected her face and body in minute detail. How it changed the words she used and the way she said them. (And how that could be related to other things or animals etc for similes). It is then those details which help to paint a vivid word-picture, or an interesting and insightful phrase. I can only presume, Jordan must have been watching at least one rain storm as he wrote these lines:

  • the only thing truly certain was that none of that mattered a spit in a rainstorm. (Page 25)
  • Rain fell by buckets, (Page 92)
  • driving the rain like stones from slings (Page 93)

As I’ve said numerous times, I like wisdom written down in a story:

  • how the horror of yesterday became merely the uneasiness of today, once you grew accustomed. (Page 61)
  • Loyalty to the Crystal Throne is precious above the breath of life, followed closely by knowing when to keep silent. The more who speak of a thing, the more will learn of it who should not.’ (Page 142)
  • Cowardice was the sort of rumor that stuck like greasy mud; you never could wash it off completely. (Page 258)
  • Hard times uncovered hard talents in the most surprising people. (Page 325
  • Truth almost always did come out in the end, but by the end, truth was often so wrapped around with rumors and speculation and absolute lies that most people never did believe it. (Page 393)

The differences between men and women provide endless fodder:

  • In his experience, if a woman did not want to hear something, she could ignore it till you yourself started to doubt you had spoken. (Page 89)
  • A woman started hissing at him like a kettle, a man with any brains found a way to cool her down fast. (Page 125)

I’m not sure if ‘humorous’ is quite the right word, but this was an interesting device I saw used a couple of times. First, the set up: relate someone or something

[She was like] A motherly farmwife amused by the antics of others in the village. Even some sisters were foolish enough to dismiss her that easily. (Page 394)

And then a few sentences later pay it off, by introducing a twist to the descriptor:

‘And why would we want to allow that?’ Anaiya said finally, in a dangerous voice. ‘We didn’t come all this way to talk to Elaida.’ She was a farmwife with a cleaver hidden behind her back and a mind to use it, now. (Page 395)

And three more lines I liked, for good measure:

  • The steps that led to the throne were as delicate as any court dance, and if the dance sometimes came to resemble a tavern brawl, you still had to make your steps with grace and precision in order to gain your goal. (Page 271)
  • They were generally accounted a thieving, unlettered lot who only bathed by accident, when they had to wade a stream. (Page 396)
  • She was not afraid. She was a skin stuffed to bursting with terror. (Page 495)

And something I started to do part way through book 10 was to highlight interesting words. Being a bit of a logophile, I like interesting words. (Yes, I once highlighted great words in a dictionary). Definitions are from Wordnik.

  • pomander – A mixture of aromatic substances enclosed in a bag or box as a protection against odor or infection, formerly worn on one’s person but now usually placed in a dresser drawer or closet.
  • ruction – A riotous disturbance; a noisy quarrel.
  • voluble – Marked by a ready flow of speech; fluent.
  • nimbus -A radiant light that appears usually in the form of a circle or halo about or over the head in the representation of a god, demigod, saint, or sacred person such as a king or an emperor.
  • lading – The act of loading.
  • inured -To habituate to something undesirable, especially by prolonged subjection; accustom: “Though the food became no more palatable, he soon became sufficiently inured to it” ( John Barth).
  • sibilant – Of, characterized by, or producing a hissing sound
  • languorous – lacking energy, spirit, liveliness or vitality
  • vulpine – Of, resembling, or characteristic of a fox.
  • avarice – Immoderate desire for wealth; cupidity.

Unfortunately, my love of words doesn’t help me beat my wife at Scrabble. I still get utterly decimated.